Aristotle’s Definition of Citizen, State, Constitution, & Government

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Aristotle’s Definition of Citizen, State, Constitution, & Government

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In order to answer the question, “What is a State?” Aristotle begins by asking, “Who is the citizen, and what is the meaning of the term?” This he does because the state is a composite whole made up of many parts—the citizens who compose it. The citizen whom Aristotle is seeking to define is the citizen in the strictest sense, against whom no exception can be made, so that “a citizen is not a citizen because he lives in a certain place; nor is he a citizen who has no legal right except that of suing and being sued; for this right may be enjoyed under the provisions of a treaty.”[1] This latter class are citizens only in a qualified sense, in the same way that children and old men are said to be citizens imperfectly, and not simply. In practice a citizen is defined as one who is born of parents who are citizens, but this is not a satisfactory definition because it cannot apply to the first inhabitants or founders of a state, nor to those who have had the franchise conferred on them by the state. A citizen in the proper sense of the term, then, is one who shares in the administration of justice, and in offices. The most comprehensive definition is one who shares in an “indefinite” office. This term includes the office of “discast” (juryman and judge in one) and the office of “ecclesiast” (member of the ecclesia or assembly of citizens). But since the citizen of necessity differs under each form of government, this definition is best adapted to the citizen of a democracy. In other states, such as Sparta and Carthage, it is the holder of a definite, and not of an indefinite, office who legislates and judges. Here the citizen would be one who shares in a definite office.

“Aristotle’s conception of a citizen is widely different from the modern conception because it is not representative but primary government that he has in view. His citizen is not content to have

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